The Senate on Thursday was scheduled to key test vote on whether to move forward with debate on wide-ranging gun control legislation that would set the stage for a bruising, potentially weeks-long floor battle four months after Connecticut’s school shooting rampage.
Senate Majority Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has promised members of both parties wide latitude to introduce amendments to the underlying bill, which would likely include amendments to ban so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and address mental health issues.
Mr. Reid said Thursday he was “fairly confident” he had the 60 votes necessary to move forward with the bill, acknowledging that senators on both sides of the aisle have a right to introduce amendments. Republicans, for example, could introduce measures like a federal concealed-carry reciprocity proposal to make any state-issued concealed weapons permit valid nationwide.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he will vote against the motion to proceed with debate.
“I believe the government should focus on keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and those with mental issues that could cause them to be a threat to society,” he said. “This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends, and family.”
Mr. Reid pledged that the first amendment to be added to the legislation is a proposal from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania that would expand gun-purchase background checks to online sales and sales at gun shows.
Under the terms of the agreement, private transactions between family members and friends would be exempt from checks. And the legislation explicitly prohibits a national registry of gun owners.
Late Wednesday, the National Rifle Association released a letter sent to senators indicating that the gun rights group will “score” votes on the amendment.
“As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” wrote NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox.
The NRA is supporting a bipartisan proposal intended to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a measure opposed by gun-control advocates who say it will make it easier for the dangerously mental ill to acquire guns. The group has also struck an accord with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, on language to crack down on federal trafficking and “straw purchasers” who buy guns only to turn around and hand them to people who cannot legally acquire them.
In addition to background checks and the trafficking language, the gun bill includes measures intended to bolster school safety.